Harnessing technology to exorcise ghosts

Ghana, as a developing country, has always been strapped of resources to promote growth and development. Revenue mobilised has never been sufficient for taking care of recurrent expenditure, and therefore the country has had to rely heavily on external grants and loans to support development projects.

A closer look at the budget of the Government of Ghana shows that much of the total expenditure is earmarked for specific spending, giving little or no room for discretionary spending that may promote growth. Significantly, about a third of total government spending is on compensation to employees in the public sector. These payments include wages and salaries for civil servants and other public sector employees and payment of retirement benefits. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that a non-negligible share of government payments in the developing world may end up going to “ghosts.”

In short, ghosts are payees that have deceased, or who never existed, but who nonetheless continue to draw regular payments from the government payroll. Whatever their genesis, ghost payments deplete government coffers and put a strain on scarce public resources. Given the tight link between the provision of public goods, such as roads and electricity, and economic growth, it follows that the presence of ghosts is a constraint on growth. The researchers argue that devoting more effort to eliminating the ghosts may be a less explored third path for making more funding available for public goods, so as to stimulate growth.

This project aims to use technology to help exorcise ghosts in Ghana. It will consist of three basic tasks:

  1. Develop a digitised system of recording deaths as they occur so they are immediately recorded in a central electronic death registry, which the researchers will help create.
  2. Digitise the existing hand-written death registry, and add the last ten years of data to the electronic death registry.
  3. Create a web portal at the Birth and Death Registry (BDR) so that any interested party or government agency can query an individual online and get an immediate response about whether the individual is deceased or not, and other key statistics such as the date or cause of death, and any national identification numbers that may have been recorded.

These three tasks should make a transformative change in the way Ghana identifies ghosts on its payrolls, and the researchers anticipate strong support from Ghana’s Ministry of Finance, SSNIT (Ghana’s Public Pension) and Ghana’s BDR, as well as other governing bodies in Ghana.

Outputs